JCUA Responds to This Past Weekend’s Violence

April 14, 2014

As Jews across the country prepare for Passover, I am with my extended family in Los Angeles. Though the metropolitan area here is more than triple the size of Chicago, it is the Chicago weekend violence statistics that I am following, along with the shootings at two Jewish Community facilities in metropolitan Kansas City . It is a bloody, violent weekend.

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We all feel the reverberations of gunfire. We mourn the victims who we don’t know and will never meet. We mourn with the parents, children, and grandchildren left behind, bereft and shell-shocked. 

JCUA’s Justice Seder earlier this month was entitled “From Handguns to Hope”. Those who attended were moved and inspired, and left feeling a little more powerful and a little less helpless. We must strengthen our resolve to come together in solidarity with those who are suffering to address this scourge, the modern-day plague of rampant gun violence.

On the eve of Passover, as we recall and retell the story of our peoples’ oppression, let us remember the communities who suffered great loss this weekend, and all due to gun violence. It has to stop.

Please join us. We need to pull together now more than ever.

Judy Levey, Exec. Dir.

P.S. In the wake of these shootings, we are more committed than ever to the work of our partners responding to gun violence.  Fierce Women Of Faith are sponsoring a Mother/Son Dialogue on May 1st at the DuSable Museum.  Click here for more information.


46 Years Later: Connecting #mlk’s Last Speech to #abetterillinois

April 4, 2014

46 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. In his last years, King focused his work on addressing the intersections between economic inequality, poverty and race. King was in Memphis to support the Memphis Sanitation Strike, a critical first campaign in his larger Poor People’s Campaign.

In his last speech, King said, “Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”

46 years after Dr. King spoke those words, economic and racial inequality are more strongly connected than ever.  As we see in this article, income inequality is growing in our city. Chicago’s staggering economically polarization is concentrated in communities of color, and nearly entirely in neighborhoods where CPS closed more that fifty Chicago Public Schools last year.

40 Years of Chicago’s Rising Inequality, in One GIF

We cannot stop our work to combat poverty.  JCUA is committed to addressing economic inequality in our city and state.  That is why we are members of the A Better Illinois coalition.  By working with A Better Illinois on changing Illinois’ flat rate income tax system, we are not only advocating for a more fair income tax.  We are also advocating for a solution to Illinois’ massive deficit and the resulting cuts in vital programs and services for the economically marginalized.  Together, we can stop the growing stratification in Chicago and draw a new map with more just colors.


 Want to get more involved with JCUA and A Better Illinois?  Click here.


(Guest Post) MLK Weekend Havdallah and Training

January 13, 2014

Join JCUA, Jewish Solidarity and Action for Schools (JSAS), Moishe House, and Rabbi Brant Rosen of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston for a powerful havdallah and workshop to learn about organizing for economic justice legislation. The event will be held  on Saturday, January 18 from 6-8:30 at Moishe House, 6418 North Glenwood Avenue. Take action with JCUA  for a fair and just tax system in Illinois and RSVP. 

By Ben Lorber
Jewish Solidarity and Action for Schools

goodwin2In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we will gather this Saturday night as Jews to educate and organize the Chicagoland Jewish community around the struggles to create a fair income tax system and to close corporate tax loopholes in Illinois. At this special havdallah evening, study the prophetic words of Dr. Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel, learn about the ongoing fight for racial and economic justice in Chicago, and motivate ourselves to take action to bring justice to our city!

“A Better Illinois” is a coalition of over 70 community, labor, faith, and civic organizations, , including JCUA, JSAS, and Rabbi Rosen, that is working to create a progressive income tax rate in the state of Illinois. Currently, Illinois’ citizens are taxed at a flat rate irrespective of income. Under this system, a single mother surviving on $15,000 a year sees the same percentage of her income- 5% taken out for taxes as does a business executive making $15,000,000 a year. Clearly, a loss of 5% yearly income is much more serious for the former than for the latter.

Read the rest of this entry »


[Action Alert: Feb 25th] Vigil and Press Conference for Economic Justice

December 12, 2013

Join JCUA members and our interfaith partners on February 25th, as we call for a smarter, fairer, and more just tax policy in Illinois.

tax-reformJCUA is a proud member of the “A Better Illinois” campaign, advocating for a fair and just tax structure in Illinois. The campaign calls for a graduated income tax in Illinois, to replace the current “flat” tax.

Why We Need Change:

  • A graduated income tax is estimated to LOWER taxes for 94 percent of Illinoisans.
  • A graduated income tax would put more money into our government so that they could continue to provide for the right priorities – education, health care, safety and services for those who are most vulnerable (read more).

Take Action:

Please join us for a press conference and special interfaith vigil with religious leaders. This event is to help build support and awareness of our current efforts to be bring a spiritual voices to the fight for a fair and just tax system in Illinois.

  • When: 10:00-11:30 pm, Tuesday, February 25, 2014
  • Where: The Chicago Temple, 77 West Washington, Chicago

Please invite friends, coworkers and neighbors as we raise a united interfaith voice for justice and common sense public policy (read non-partisan in-depth analysis).

To RSVP, contact: chris@jcua.org


Director of Teen Programs Speaks about Faith Informed Justice

December 11, 2013

Yesterday evening, Rebecca Katz, JCUA’s Director of Teen Programs, spoke at the 8th Day Center for Justice Young Adult Council and the Brother David Darst Center’s “Speaker Series: Faith Informed Justice.” Together with Jerica Arents, peace activist and educator, and Gerald Hankerson, CAIR-Chicago’s Outreach Coordinator, the panel explored how their faith tradition shape their work for justice. Over forty people attended the event, held at the Darst Center.

Rebecca, Jerica, and Gerald at the panel.

Rebecca, Jerica, and Gerald at the panel.

During the panel, Gerald reflected on how his Muslim faith guides his activism work. Addressing how her spirituality shapes her justice work, Jerica described how she uses silence and reflection as a space to examine and combat internalized oppression.

During the Q&A session, many of the questions focused on the panelists’ experiences teaching youth about social injustices in Chicago. One audience member asked,” How do you help teens who are struggling with feelings of guilt?” Speaking from her experience with Or Tzedek, Rebecca answered that guilt is a natural, but unproductive emotion that often causes people to run away from social justice engagement.

As a strategy to move from guilt to (productive) responsibility, Rebecca explained the importance of teaching teens concrete activism and advocacy skills, like creating an action plan or identifying attainable goals. This training allows teens to break down a seemingly insurmountable oppression, like institutionalized racism, into a campaign focused on a specific issue, like gun violence in Chicago.


The Paths to Transformation (Torah Commentary)

December 4, 2013

What does it take to grow as a person or institution? What kind of transformation is necessary? In what ways must we leave our comfort zones in order to thrive? This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Vayigash – gives us a few clues to these questions.

Asaf Bar-Turaby Asaf Bar-Tura
Director of Operations, JCUA

This week we find Jacob’s family facing a famine, and pleading for help from Pharos’s deputy in Egypt (whom they don’t realize is actually their brother Joseph). At first Joseph tells them that in return for help, he demands to keep their brother Benjamin as a slave. He then agrees to help them, and reveals his identity (I’ll get back to that in a moment).

The brothers go to back to their father, Jacob (who is still in Cna’an, today’s Israel/Palestine), and he moves his whole family to Egypt, escaping the famine. This is where I’d like to start.

On the way to Egypt, as Jacob is leaving his home, G-d says to him: “Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation” (Genesis, 46:3). So our first question is, Why does G-d promise to make Jacob into a great nation in Egypt, of all places? For me, the first lesson here is that growth and transformation mostly comes about when you are outside your comfort zone. When you pursue what is yet unknown. And it’s ok to be anxious. But no need to be afraid.

But how was this made possible in the first place? How was Joseph persuaded to reveal his identity to his brothers? This brings us back to the name of this Torah portion – “Vayigash.” The Hebrew meaning of this word is, “to come close,” or “to approach.” As Rabbi Jonathan Sachs points out, it was when Joseph’s brother – Judah – approached him up close, that Joseph finally broke into tears and revealed himself.

Remember, Judah was not aware that he was talking to his brother. As he was pleading on behalf of his family, he was talking to one of the most powerful people in the land. And yet, to accomplish his goal, Judah realized he needs to get closer, to approach. We can touch others powerfully when we overcome barriers and fear, and get close to one another.

To recap, so far we learn that transformation and change happen when you leave your comfort zone, and also when you get up close to others, approaching them on their terms.

But we would miss the drama of the Torah portion if we did not pay more attention to Judah, the brother who plead for Benjamin before Joseph. Rabbi Sachs reminds us that a few chapters before this one, Judah was the brother who proposed selling Joseph off to slavery. In light of this past behavior, it is all the more dramatic that Judah is the one to propose that he (Judah) stay as a slave in Benjamin’s stead (Genesis, 44: 33). The man who sold his brother to slavery, is now willing to go into slavery to save his brother.

It is Judah – the one after whom Judaism is named – who undergoes a dramatic transformation.

Takeaways from “Vayigash”? Perhaps that inspirational, transformative processes happen when we are bold enough to step out, and step closer. When we are willing to accept that things can be better than they are, in us, and in our circles.


Gracie’s Cafe: Building Community One Cup At A Time

December 3, 2013

Gracie’s Café is the latest project of JCUA’s Community Ventures Program, which provides zero-interest loan for community development projects.  A long time coming, St. Leonard’s Ministries was able to open the doors of Gracie’s Café in September 2013 with a final push from a CVP economic development loan of $50,000. 

by Beth Filipiak
Organizing and Community Development Intern, JCUA

Gracies Cafe MenuChicagoans can certainly have their choice among coffee shops and cafés, but a few months ago in the Near West Side, a new café opened that is worth much more than a passing glance before heading onto something more familiar.  You won’t regret it.

Gracie’s Café is the latest venture of St. Leonard’s Ministry (SLM), an organization with almost 60 years’ experience of providing comprehensive residential, case management and employment development services for formerly incarcerated men and women.

Gracies Cafe from Chicago Gazette article Robert Dougherty Mike Ellert LaTonya Carter and Walter Boyd

Left to right: Bob Dougherty (from SLM), Mike Ellert (cafe manager), LaTonya Carter (cafe staff) and Walter Boyd (SLM director).

Each year, approximately 250-275 formerly incarcerated individuals reside in SLM’s four housing programs:  St. Leonard’s House, Grace House, St. Andrew’s Court and the Harvest Commons Residence, which opened late this summer in partnership with Heartland Alliance and is located in what was formerly known as the Viceroy Hotel.

Gracie’s Café, brightly lit and eco-friendly, is located on the ground floor next to the Harvest Commons garden.  In the summer there is patio seating and in the winter, friends can gather together inside and enjoy delicious year round Intelligentsia coffee and other warm beverages, light freshly prepared breakfast and lunch dishes, as well as Bridgeport Bakery pastries like apple squares and their season pumpkin bars.

The cafe staff

The cafe staff

Along with the great food and drink, customers can enjoy the warm feeling of knowing that they are supporting a great training program.

Gracie’s Café is staffed with graduates of SLM’s Culinary Skills program, which is run by its Employment Center.  As graduates of the training program, Gracie’s Cafe staff now receives valuable work experience and has the opportunity to meet with a job counselor to help them further their careers.

After training and working at Gracie’s Cafe, SLM’s goal is to move employees to stable, permanent jobs in communities and bring on new graduates to help them do the same.

As much more than a café, Gracie’s is definitely worth stopping by. Grab a cup of coffee, a bite to eat or ask about their catering options.  They are also a great venue for smaller meetings, gatherings and just a great atmosphere.

Gracie’s Cafe in the Media:

Check out their recent feature in Gazette Chicago, and watch for more information on when they will be featured in Chicago’s own 30 Good Minutes, by the Sunday Evening Club on PBS.

Cafe Info:

  • 1519 W. Warren Blvd (plenty of street parking available!)
  • M-F: 7am – 2pm; S: 8am – 2pm
  • 312.492.8800
  • Visit and Like them on Facebook

Following the Legacy of Mayor Washington, 26 Years Later

December 2, 2013

Harold Washington served as Chicago’s first African-American Mayor from 1983 until his death in 1987. Christopher Huff, JCUA’s community organizing intern, attended the ceremony commemorating 26 years to Mayor Washington’s death, on November 25. In this post, Christopher reflects on the future of Washington’s legacy. 

by Christopher Huff
Community Organizing Intern, JCUA

Christopher Huff at Mayor Washington's grave.

Christopher Huff at Mayor Washington’s grave.

Fairness is much more than just a favored position. Fairness is a necessary condition for the existence of a civilized society. Fairness is a guard against injustice and a key component to any act derived from the intent to be free from bias or prejudice.

We must never forget this important role that fairness plays in the development of our society. Fairness is one of the most important tools we have to ensure not only the promotion of social justice, but the advancement of economic and political opportunities for those in need.

No leader could have understood these concepts more than former Chicago mayor Harold Washington. His belief in the advancement of fairness as a crucial value to promote during his campaign and tenure as mayor is arguably the most salient issue addressed during his inaugural speech in the fall of 1983. In this speech he said:

“I hope someday to be remembered by history as the Mayor who cared about people and who was, above all, fair…

One of the ideas that held us all together said that neighborhood involvement has to take the place of the ancient, decrepit and creaking machine. City government for once in our lifetime must be made equitable and fair.”

Mayor Washington at a JCUA event in 1983. With him (right to left): Rabbi Robert Marx (JCUA founder), Jane Ramsey (JCUA executive director, who later served in Washington's cabinet), and Kurt Rothschild (then JCUA Board president).

Mayor Washington at a JCUA event in 1983. With him (right to left): Rabbi Robert Marx (JCUA founder), Jane Ramsey (JCUA executive director, who later served in Washington’s cabinet), and Kurt Rothschild (then JCUA Board president).

Now, we fast forward 30 years following his inauguration and exactly 26 years past his shocking death and there I stood in front of his gravesite as a community organizer in training at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and student at the University of Chicago – School of Social Service Administration inspired by his words and dedicated to a call for a more fair Chicago for all the city’s residents.

Chicago has a come a long way since the passing of the Harold Washington. It has grown to become home to more than 2.7 million people and the second largest labor force in the United States. It remains the premier location for global conventions, tourists, and immigrants of all types of colors, creeds, and ethnic backgrounds.

Jesse Jackson speaking at Washington's memorial ceremony. He said: "We will not let let the flame burn out... without Harold there is no Barack."

Jesse Jackson speaking at Washington’s memorial ceremony. He said: “We will not let let the flame burn out… without Harold there is no Barack.”

However, if we are going to truly address the issues of racism, classism, and anti-Semitism that has plagued our city for generations once and for all, we must increase our willingness to work collaboratively across culture and religion – regardless of any fear or caution we might possess.

For nearly 50 years, JCUA has worked collaboratively across various cultures and religions to help address issues of race, class, and anti-Semitism.  Building on the prophetic Jewish values of “Tzedek” (justice) and “Tikkun Olam,” (repairing the world), JCUA inspires me to continue working toward the creation of a more fair and just Chicago.

And now, more than ever, I hope that you also stay committed to the principles of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam as you look to continue or renew your commitment to Jewish life.


Embracing Diverse Leadership: A Note On Parashat “Mikketz”

November 27, 2013

by Asaf Bar-Tura
Director of Operations, JCUA

Asaf Bar-TuraIn this week’s Torah portion (Parashat “Mikketz”) we read of the birth of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Menasseh. These are the two sons of which Jacob, their grandfather, said, “With you, Israel will bless, saying, ‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh’” (Genesis, 48:20).

To this day, Jacob’s blessing is still said in Jewish households around the world. We bless our children that they grow to embody the values of these sons. This begs the question, what is so special about these two sons? What are we trying to emulate?

Here’s one take on this question: Ephraim and Menasseh were born in Egypt, in a foreign land, in a culture with values not based in their tradition. It was not clear that they would live up to Jacob’s hopes of being leaders in their community.

But in fact, they did become leaders, and their tribes became part and parcel of the people of Israel, on par with Jacob’s own sons. For us, Ephraim and Menasseh can emulate the ideal of young people becoming leaders in our diverse Jewish community even though (and maybe BECAUSE) they did not grow up in a traditional Jewish environment. These sons made a non-trivial commitment to their community. They found their own path to a meaningful communal engagement.

And it was Jacob’s wisdom not to shun them due to their birthplace and background, but rather to embrace them all the more. There are no Ephraims and Menassehs without Jacobs, and there is no thriving community without embracing the diverse places from which our leadership may emerge.


House of Peace or Piece? A State by State Analysis of Gun Laws and Houses of Worship (Mississippi Will Surprise You)

November 20, 2013


JCUA is working with our partners to ban guns in houses of worship. Many skeptics say that even if we successfully make this ban law in Illinois, the Supreme Court will strike it down. However, there is good reason to think that if we are successful, the court will not interfere. Beth Filipiak provides an analysis of similar legislation in other states, and what it means for us.  Some of the states may surprise you (check out Mississippi)…

by Beth Filipiak
Organizing and Community Development Intern, JCUA

State Ranking Gun LawsThe current Illinois Conceal and Carry Law passed in July 2013 allows concealed weapons, loaded or unloaded, to be brought into any place of worship beginning January 2014.  Houses of worship that wish to prevent guns from entering the premises, must post a sign at all entrances (there is one particular sign specified in the law, with specified dimensions, that signifies the independent property owner  has a preference of “No Guns”).

When the law was approved by the Illinois legislature, Governor Quinn attempted to veto some of the worst parts of it.  He said at the time:

“There are too many provisions in this bill that are inspired by the National Rifle Association, not the common good. Public safety should never be compromised or negotiated away.”

This is the sign required by law in Illinois for any establishment that bans guns within it.  Sign must be 4x6 inches with the only text being the reference to IL code.

The sign required in Illinois for any establishment that bans guns within it. Sign must be 4×6 inches with the only text being the reference to IL code.

Despite his efforts, the legislature overrode the Governor’s veto, and the law was approved without his recommended changes.  However, Governor Quinn is not alone in his thought process that houses of worship should be included in a list of prohibited places.  Multiple states have some type of restriction, and while they are often rather detailed, and continuously changing, here is a quick breakdown as it stands today.


States with Straight Prohibition, Even With Permit

Georgia and Mississippi have a strict prohibition on guns in houses of worship:

  • Georgia: The state’s ban on guns in houses of worship was challenged in court. The challengers claimed that the ban infringes on on their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.  The US Supreme Court upheld the state gun ban as late as January 2013, saying that the prohibition of guns does not prevent an individual from worshiping as they see fit. The court determined that bringing a concealed weapon into a house of worship is not essential to religious worship, and therefore does not meet the criteria of the 1st amendment freedom of religion.
  • Mississippi: As of July 2013, houses of worship are still on the state’s list of prohibited places for concealed carry, even with a conceal and carry permit and with the new Open Carry laws enacted in the state.

States that Prohibit Guns, Unless the Individual House of Worship Permits It

In these cases, the assumption is that guns are banned in houses of worship. If a house of worship welcomes guns, it is its own responsibility to notify the public (and not as it is currently in Illinois, where the responsibility to put signs is on those who do not welcome guns):

  • Nebraska: Houses of worship are on the list of prohibited places for concealed carry, but individual houses may authorize security personnel to carry, IF they notify their congregations in writing (2009).
  • Ohio: Houses of worship that welcome guns must posts signs saying so (this law is currently in effect at least through January 2014).
  • South Carolina: Individuals must seek permission from the governing body of the particular house of worship, if they wish to enter with a gun.
  • Wyoming: Individuals must seek written consent from the governing body of the particular house of worship, if they wish to enter with a gun.

States that Prohibit Guns, Unless the Carrier Has Additional Training or Certificate, AND the Individual House of Worship Permits It

  • Louisiana: House of worship may choose to inform the congregation that they will allow firearms. In such cases, individuals who wish to carry a concealed weapon in the house of worship are required to undergo an additional 8 hours of training.
  • Michigan: Prior to 2012, all weapons were prohibited in houses of worship. However, currently, individuals who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon can bring their weapon into a house of worship, if they have the explicit consent of the house of worship permission.
  • Missouri: A general Conceal and Carry Permit and permission are required before you can bring your firearm into a house of worship.
  • North Dakota: Before an individual can carry a concealed weapon into a house of worship, ALL of the following are required: (1) explicit permission from the house of worship; (2) a Class 1 license; (3) local law enforcement must be notified of the name(s) of the individual(s) who are allowed to carry a concealed weapon in the house of worship.

States Where Houses of Worship May Specifically Choose to Ban Guns and Must Notify the Public

This is similar to the current legislation in Illinois:

  • Texas: “No Gun” signs which are posted by houses of worship are legally enforceable, regardless of permit status (whereas when the “No Guns” signs are posted elsewhere, it is not).
  • Utah: It is a criminal act to trespass with a firearm into a house of worship that has notified the public that guns are not allowed.
  • Virginia: Houses of worship may make the choice to ban firearms, but must notify the public.
  • Kansas:  A recent law in April 2013 created what has been called the nation’s most pro-Second Amendment law, which now places onus on the houses of worship to post signs.

How You Can Get Involved

All things considered, JCUA believes that people deserve to retain a safe space of healing and sanctuary, and that houses of worship should be that space.  Amidst all of the other chaos, we all deserve peace to worship.

Join JCUA and their partners in the campaign to add houses of worship to the list of prohibited places in our current gun legislation.  Learn more here or email Asaf Bar-Tura for more information at asaf@jcua.org

*** The sources of information for this article can be found here and here.


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